Everybody’s heard of photosynthesis. We all learned about it in middle school science, and most of us promptly forgot about it during summer break. It’s the process where plants use sunlight as an energy source. Now scientists have discovered photosynthesis is even more complicated than originally thought.
According to an article from Wired News (click here), researchers have discovered that plants use quantum mechanics to maximize the amount of energy they collect from the sun. Quantum mechanics is the really weird part of physics. It tells us, among other things, that subatomic particles can exist in more than one place at the same time so long as no one observes them.
When sunlight enters the leaf of a plant, the individual photons exist in more than one place at the same time, traveling in multiple directions through the leaf, letting the plant choose the pathway that suits it best. Once the plant chooses, it has made an observation in the quantum mechanical sense and the other versions of that photon cease to exist. The plant consumes the photon, and the process begins again.
In other words, plants use quantum mechanics like an eating utensil. What a knife and fork are to us, the strangest, most complicated branch of physics is to a plant. Keeping this in mind, the killer plant from Little Shop of Horrors seems a lot more dangerous.
They say that anyone who claims to understand quantum mechanics is lying. Humans have been struggling with it for almost a century, and it still doesn’t make any sense. But plants get it, and they use it. They probably worked it out millions of years ago. So what else do they know that we don’t?